Early Dynastic Period (Egypt)

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Early Dynastic Period of Egypt
c. 3150 BC – c. 2686 BC
Early Dynastic Period (Egypt) (Egypt)
Early Dynastic Period (Egypt) (Northeast Africa)
CapitalThinis then Memphis
Common languagesAncient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian religion
• c. 3100 BC
Narmer (first)
• c. 2690 BC
Khasekhemwy (last)
• Established
c. 3150 BC 
• Disestablished
 c. 2686 BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Predynastic Egypt
Old Kingdom of Egypt
Today part ofEgypt
Early Dynastic Period of Egypt - c. 3150 BC – c. 2686 BC

The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period of Egypt (also known as Thinite Period, from Thinis, the supposed hometown of its rulers[1]) is the era immediately following the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the end of the Naqada III archaeological period until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom.[2] With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Thinis to Memphis with a unified Egypt ruled by an Egyptian god-king. Abydos remained the major religious center in the south. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic Period.

Before the unification of Egypt, the land was settled with autonomous villages. With the early dynasties, and for much of Egypt's history thereafter, the country came to be known as the Two Lands. The pharaohs established a national administration and appointed royal governors. The buildings of the central government were typically open-air temples constructed of wood or sandstone. The earliest Egyptian hieroglyphs appear just before this period, though little is known of the spoken language they represent.

Cultural evolution[edit]

tȝwy 'Two Lands'
Egyptian hieroglyphs

By about 3600 BC, Neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals.[3] Shortly after 3600 BC Egyptian society began to grow and advance rapidly toward refined civilization.[4] A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the pottery in the Southern Levant, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this period.[4] The Mesopotamian process of sun-dried bricks, and architectural building principles—including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect—became popular.[4]

Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time, the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt also underwent a unification process.[4] Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often.[4] During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule.[5] Narmer is shown on palettes wearing the double crown, composed of the lotus flower representing Upper Egypt and the papyrus reed representing Lower Egypt - a sign of the unified rule of both parts of Egypt which was followed by all succeeding rulers. In mythology, the unification of Egypt is portrayed as the falcon-god, called Horus and identified with Lower Egypt, as conquering and subduing the god Set, who was identified with Upper Egypt.[6] Divine kingship, which would persist in Egypt for the next three millennia, was firmly established as the basis of Egypt's government.[7] The unification of societies along the Nile has also been linked to the end of the African humid period.

Funeral practices for the peasants would have been the same as in predynastic times, but the rich demanded something more. Thus, the Egyptians began construction of the mastabas which became models for the later Old Kingdom constructions such as the step pyramid. Cereal agriculture and centralization contributed to the success of the state for the next 800 years.

It seems certain that Egypt became unified as a cultural and economic domain long before its first king ascended to the throne in the lower Egyptian city of Memphis. Political unification proceeded gradually, perhaps over a period of a few centuries, as local districts established trading networks and as the ability of their governments to organize agriculture labor on a larger scale increased. Divine kingship may also have gained spiritual momentum as the cults of gods like Horus, Set and Neith associated with living representatives became widespread in the country.[8]

It was also during this period that the Egyptian writing system was further developed. Initially, Egyptian writing had been composed primarily of a few symbols denoting amounts of various substances. By the end of the 3rd dynasty it had been expanded to include more than 200 symbols, both phonograms and ideograms.[7]

First Pharaoh[edit]

According to Manetho, the first monarch of the unified Upper and Lower Egypt was Menes, who is now identified with Narmer. Indeed, Narmer is the earliest recorded First Dynasty monarch: he appears first on the necropolis seal impressions of Den and Qa'a.[9][10][11] This shows that Narmer was recognized by the first dynasty kings as an important founding figure. Narmer is also the earliest king associated to the symbols of power over the two lands (see in particular the Narmer Palette, a votive cosmetic palette showing Narmer wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt) and may therefore be the first king to achieve the unification. Consequently, the current consensus is that "Menes" and "Narmer" refer to the same person.[4] Alternative theories hold that Narmer was the final king of the Naqada III period[6] and Hor-Aha is to be identified with "Menes".

Settlements in Canaan and Nubia[edit]

Egyptian settlement and colonisation is attested from about 3200 BC onward all over the area of southern Canaan with almost every type of artifact: architecture (fortifications, embankments and buildings), pottery, vessels, tools, weapons, seals, etc.[12][13][14][15] 20 serekhs attributed to Narmer — the first ruler of the Early Dynastic Period — have been found in Canaan.[16] There is also evidence of Egyptian settlement and occupation in lower Nubia after the Nubian A-Group culture came to an end.[17][18]


  1. ^ Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell Publishing, 1992, p. 49
  2. ^ Shaw, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 0-19-815034-2.
  3. ^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishing: New York, 1966) p. 51.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1966) p. 52-53.
  5. ^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishers: New York, 1966), p. 53.
  6. ^ a b Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, p. 53.
  7. ^ a b Kinnaer, Jacques. "Early Dynastic Period" (PDF). The Ancient Egypt Site. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  8. ^ The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt pg 22-23 (1997) By Bill Manley
  9. ^ Qa'a and Merneith lists http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/hesyra/Egyptgallery03.html
  10. ^ The Narmer Catalog http://narmer.org/inscription/1553
  11. ^ The Narmer Catalog http://narmer.org/inscription/4048
  12. ^ Branislav Anđelković, Southern Canaan as an Egyptian Protodynastic Colony
  13. ^ Branislav Anđelković, Hegemony for Beginners: Egyptian Activity in the Southern Levant during the Second Half of the Fourth Millennium B.C.
  14. ^ name="Brink1992">Naomi Porat (1992). "An Egyptian Colony in Southern Palestine During the Late Predynastic to Early Dynastic". In Edwin C. M. van den Brink (ed.). The Nile Delta in Transition: 4th.-3rd. Millennium B.C. : Proceedings of the Seminar Held in Cairo, 21.-24. October 1990, at the Netherlands Institute of Archaeology and Arabic Studies. Van den Brink. pp. 433–440. ISBN 978-965-221-015-9. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  15. ^ Ancient Egyptian brewery found in downtown Tel Aviv
  16. ^ Jiménez-Serrano, Alejandro (2007). Los primeros reyes y la unificación de Egipto. Universidad de Jaen. pp. 370, Table 8.
  17. ^ Brian Yare, The Middle Kingdom Egyptian Fortresses in Nubia. 2001
  18. ^ Drower, Margaret 1970: Nubia, A Drowning Land, London, pp. 16-17

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]